Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Doll’s House, Part 2

A-


It is virtually unheard of these days for a new play to arrive on Broadway without having at least one regional production first. Received wisdom has it that there’s no audience for new American plays on Broadway. The enthusiastic reception given Lucas Hnath’s clever new play at the Golden Theatre suggests that rules are made to be broken. When Jayne Houdyshell gets prolonged entrance applause, you know you’re not in a typical Broadway audience. It’s even more surprising that the play, presented as a sequel to the mirthless Ibsen classic, turns out to be hilariously funny. I decided to attend with some trepidation because I had been disappointed in the two previous Hnath plays I had seen — The Christians and Red Speedo.  Sometimes the third time is a charm. From the first moment, I was engaged by this version of what happened to Nora Helmer 15 years after she left her family. Hnath has written four juicy roles for four fine actors. Laurie Metcalf (The Other Place), always worth seeing, shines as Nora. Houdyshell (The Humans, Well), a Tony-winning treasure, is delightful as Anne Marie, the longtime family servant. Chris Cooper brings depth and nuance to the role of Torvald. Condola Rashad (Ruined) is cool and collected as daughter Emmy. Heath’s snappy, dialogue is anachronistically modern. So are the sparse furnishings in Miriam Beuther’s thrust set — two pairs of Scandinavian Modern chairs, a small table with a box of Kleenex, and a large plant. On the other hand, David Zinn’s costumes are faithful to the period. The oversize door, perhaps the most famous one in modern drama, is on a wall that reaches to an enormous height. The thought-provoking plot balances the conflicting motivations of each character, when each is forced to make a choice that will affect the others. It’s almost too formulaic and the ending, for me, was less than satisfying. Except for punctuating the scenes by blackouts with the characters’ names projected in huge letters on the set, Sam Gold’s direction (The Glass Menagerie, Fun House) is unfussy. I could have done without the loud percussive pop music that preceded the play. Nevertheless, the play’s strengths far outweigh any weaknesses.. And you don’t really need to know Ibsen’s play to enjoy this one. It was an extremely worthwhile 90 minutes of theater

4 comments:

P Ardell said...

There are two details that seemed to be missing in the plot—although it’s possible I missed hearing lines that would have cleared them up. Nora returns after 15 years to ask Torvald to give her a divorce because she learned from a pending legal action that she’s still married to him; moreover, under Norway’s oppressive anti-feminist laws she has committed a crime (for not having had her husband’s permission to do her writing); the “crime” will destroy her career and her wealth. But doesn't she need more than a mere divorce? She needs either (1) a divorce dated 15 years earlier because even if Torvald grants her one now (in 1894), she will still have been married at the time she violated the laws; or (2) some other convincing proof that she really thought she was divorced for the entire time. Moreover, we’re told that Torvald will face public scorn and loss of employment if his society, which has believed since 1879 that Nora had died away from home, learns—as it will when he files divorce papers—that her death was a lie. Even in 1894 Norway, whatever scandal befalls a prominent woman author exposed for violating the law will eventually ensnare her husband: in other words, Nora’s exposure before the play will ruin Torvald no matter what; Nora can “survive,” but only if her divorce is (fraudulently) dated 1879. If I am correct about these plot points, then the characters are focusing their energies on matters that are already beyond their control. Nora’s tearing up the divorce papers may be an act emotionally equivalent to walking out the door 15 years earlier, but with the wrong date on it, it’s usefulness is questionable. And she could always get another copy because it’s registered at the town hall.

Bob's Theater Blog said...

Thanks for sharing your interesting observations.

Lynne Schmelter-Davis said...

Thanks Bob. I really enjoyed this play !

Bob's Theater Blog said...

I'm glad you liked it.